Sharlene Chiu takes MTV viewers with her across the world, sharing her international adventures through MTV News and through her recently-launched food and travel blog. A graduate of Ryerson University and a Toronto native since her toddler years, the producer and TV host has also brought music from all over the globe to Canadians, going out of her way to support unique and talented acts that have yet to break into the mainstream.
This February, Chiu took home the award for Best in Broadcast at the Travel Journalism Awards for her 2009 UK special, MTV Pounds Britain, and just recently returned from a jaunt in France to cover its ever-evolving music scene. Constantly on the go, and often found at the city's hottest live shows, the MTV host actively helps to expose fans and viewers to new cultural and artistic influences, living up to her reputation as a jet-setter and music aficionado.
What's your day job?
I'm a reporter and producer for MTV News. I was hired right from the beginning when MTV Canada was launched in 2005, and it was before any of the shows were in production.
I'm such a huge lover and seeker of new music, and for some reason I always had the urge to expose it to people who love music as much as I do, and show them an inside look into an artist they love - and maybe even different sides to an artist who they like. The best part is trying to introduce new music to people who might not necessarily seek it out, [and then] that band becomes their favourite band. I think that's the benefit of having MTV News as my outlet because MTV has such a wide audience.
What are you working on right now?
I have a new travel series that started with MTV News Pounds Britain, [and] it's going to be called Sharlene Vs So right now I'm cutting Austin [Texas] - Sharlene Vs. Austin - and then I came back recently from Lyon, and that's going to be Sharlene Vs. Lyon, so it's going to continue to be a travel series.
And it's just been really awesome because the feedback of MTV Pounds Britain was great - I won the Travel Journalism Award in New York . . . [and] from there, a lot of tourism boards have been really helpful. They're just so supportive of the idea of the series because they're able to tap into the youth market, and it's just so natural - it's not forced. You can literally see the city through the eyes of some of the coolest bands of that city. So we're going to be airing pieces soon from it, and it's going to air as a half hour the last week of July.
What neighbourhood in Toronto do you live in?
Right now - this is actually perfect timing [because] on June 1st I put in my 60 day notice - I'm moving. So I live right now at Davisville, and I'm really close to work - like, when it's nice I'll walk to work because we're at Yonge and Davenport. I mean, I love the area - it's clean, there's so many trees, and there's lot of cute restaurants and cafes uptown - and it's great for a family, but in terms of what I do and where my friends live, I'm usually where the shows are happening, so it's time for a change. I need to move.
I'm looking. I'm looking at a place right now, and I'm hoping I get it because I want a nice kitchen too, because I love cooking.
What area are you hoping to move to?
Right now I'm looking at Little Italy and Queen West because everyone's there. If I'm not going to be close to work, I might as well be close to all my friends. I love [Little Italy] - it's got such a great vibe and the energy's amazing.
What do you like most about that area?
My favourite bar is in Kensington - Ronnie's. That's where I'll always be on a summer weekend. Ronnie's is my favourite. It's low key, [it's got a] great patio and friends of mine work the bar, so it's a nice, family vibe, too - and it's right in front of The Grilled Cheese. They deliver the grilled cheese right to you at Ronnie's. You go and you order [and] they bring it to you, which is awesome - it's that whole relaxed feel, and I love it.
How often does MTV News take you out of the city?
On a regular basis, I think, [because] of this new series, but I do have to be back to go through the footage and to put stuff together. So recently, it seemed like I was travelling a lot because the opportunities happened so close together. I think within a month I did Austin, I did Houston, went to Paris for a couple of days - but that was more a little bit of vacation time because I knew I was going to be in Lyon. I think I was back home for a week or two, and then I was off again.
With television, you just never know - it could be that you travel back-to-back for three months, and then you're back home for another three, and you do it again. So it's really random, but I'd say regularly.
Do you fly coach, business or first class?
Ha! Economy. I wish first class! Unless it's on some random flight - I think I've maybe been bumped up to first class once in the last ten years.
But I do have to say, with the new travel series, the flight and accommodations are provided by the Tourism Board, so the hotels are always very nice, and it balances out. And I love a good boutique hotel, and then they take us to great places to eat.
What are some of your best travel tips?
Always do your research beforehand - what you love, not what you think you have to see. What do you really like? And then research the city, map it out, hit it area by area and then relax when you're there because you've done your research beforehand [and] you know where everything is. And if you don't get it all done, don't worry about it - enjoy what you can. I check TripAdvisor.com before booking a hotel - if you like boutique hotels I go on TabletHotels.com, and . . . I always go to HopStop.com for walking and subway routes.
Aside from friends and family, what do you miss most about Toronto when you're away?
I think Toronto is the perfect city to come back to when you've been away. I guess there is that family vibe that Toronto has, and . . . it's a big city with a small city heart. There's so much diversity, which I like. Like the restaurants - there's great Indian, there's great bar and grills, pizza, Italian, everything - it's a variety of good. People joke that Toronto's the New York of Canada, but in many ways it is, kind of, because you can find people from so many different parts of Canada in Toronto.
What have you seen in another city that you think should be started in Toronto?
I totally have an answer for this, because I've been talking about this for a long time! What I found in other cities that I think Toronto should introduce is - you know Brooklyn Bowl? So there's that in New York, which is a bowling alley, concert venue, bar, restaurant all in one, it's so much fun - it's amazing, and it's actually doing so well, that I think every night there's a different event.
And in Austin, they have something very similar called The Highball, and that's even one step further: it's a bowling alley, concert venue, restaurant, bar, karaoke and skiball. And the times I've been to both - the one in Austin, the one in New York - it's so much fun. There's young people there, older people there, there's families there - it's a variety of people who come . . . and every time I go, I'm like "I wish Toronto had this".
Where are you off to next?
Part of why I love doing this is because it's gotta be a city that has bands that I love and that I really have faith in and who are just doing amazing - and [who also] I think will be great on camera to go around. So I'm kind of in the research process right now, but it looks like in terms of the Tourism Board side, I might have opportunities to do one in Paris or Wales. So those right now look like they might be the next ones, but I would love to do the west coast - L.A., San Diego and San Francisco.